Tag Archives: Weightlifting

What Is the Ideal Amount of Exercise?

Above: Me sucking wind after a tough workout.

We often hear what the minimum amount of exercise we need is, but what amount of exercise is actually optimal? At what point have we reaped all the benefits exercise has to offer, and possibly even gone over the edge into damaging overtraining?

With the largest snowstorm in years lashing my apartment today, I thought it was as good a time as any to try to find an answer.

The federal government recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. This establishes a useful lower bound we definitely shouldn’t dip below, but a highly cited study in JAMA Internal Medicine finds that you can get further longevity benefits by exercising a lot more:

the longevity benefit threshold appears to be approximately 3 to 5 times the recommended physical activity minimum

So, in order to be sure to get the maximum longevity benefit, you need to do five times the minimum recommended level of exercise. 5x the minimum recommended level would be 1 hour 47 minutes of moderate activity daily or 54 minutes of vigorous activity daily.

Furthermore, the study found no danger from exercising even more than what it takes to get the full longevity benefit:

there does not appear to be an elevated mortality risk with LTPA [leisure time physical activity] levels as high as 10 or more times the recommended minimum.

Looking at the differences between moderate and vigorous activity, I also wondered if one is better than the other. There doesn’t seem to be solid data to say that either moderate or vigorous activity is superior from a health perspective:

comprehensive reviews of the literature on physical activity and mortality report that overall volume of physical activity is associated with lower mortality risk but report mixed findings on the relative contributions of moderate- vs vigorous-intensity activities

So am I doing enough? Looking at the pedometer app on my phone, I’ve averaged 2.75 hours per day of walking (moderate intensity exercise) over the past year. I also do about 3-4 hours a week of vigorous exercise (yoga and strength training, mostly), so about 30 min daily.

So, I seem to be comfortably above the level needed to get the maximum longevity benefit. That said, counterintuitively, I sometimes find my mood is a little lower on days I don’t do vigorous activity. (You think you’d be happy for a rest day, but maybe not!) Just because I’m at the maximum amount of exercise to produce longevity benefits doesn’t mean that more exercise might not produce other benefits in terms of mental health, athletic ability, appearance, etc.

Since there appears to be no harm from even very high levels of activity, I may add another vigorous workout (likely yoga or calistenics) to my routine some weeks, depending on my schedule and desires at the time.

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I Found a Secret Gym!

One of the benefits of not travelling in 2020 has been discovering what’s right around me. I’ve made more new friends this year than in the prior 5 years combined. I find myself actually (perish the thought!) saying hello to neighbors! We’re even exchanging baked goods like something out of the 1950’s. And it’s totally awesome.

Besides new friends, I just discovered something else: the building I’ve been living in for 2.5 years has a gym! I peeked through a hole in the laundry room wall, where plumbers were working on a pipe. As I got closer, I could hardly believe what I saw. A secret room filled with…exercise equipment?

I passed through a door marked Meter Room, past our electric meters, and went through a second door…this one unmarked. Inside was a gym straight out of the 1970’s. Rusty iron weights, exercise bikes without a single transistor, and bodybuilding posters from decades ago.

Our superintendent created this gym entirely on his own. It’s not the Equinox, but the equipment is surprisingly varied and of high quality. He made it for himself and shared it with whoever might wish to use it. After his recent retirement and return to his home country of Colombia, he left all this here for us.

Working out in this secluded space alongside exposed pipes makes me feel like Arnold Schwarzenegger at Gold’s Gym in the 1970’s. Until I look into one of the mirrors, at least. 🙂

I wanted to tell you about this to emphasize the wonderful things we gain from being at home more this year. We are not just missing out on travel, concerts, etc. We get something too…a new familiarity with and appreciation for the world right outside our own doors.

It also shows me the great effect one person can have on others, even others they’ve never met, with just a little care and individual initiative. People our superintendent will never see will be healthier because of what he did. What a great example for the rest of us!

How are you guys staying healthy this year? What have you discovered nearby? Let me know in the comments!